The “Nightmare of History” in James Joyce’s Ulysses

Roby Evan Record Jehl


The majority of readers of James Joyce’s Ulysses tend to associate its most famous line, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” with Stephen Dedalus’s intention in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to overcome his past of rigid national and religious tradition. While this meaning is immediately present in the quote, a closer reading of the text suggests a far more ambitious–and perhaps even vain–impetus behind the identification of history as a nightmare. Additionally, just as the most popular reading has an autobiographical dimension–in which Joyce himself seeks to transcend his own tutelage–so does the alternate reading I present in this essay have implications for both Dedalus and Joyce.


Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Full Text:



Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Jean and Alexander Heard Library System, and the Office of Innovation through Technology.